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Social Media and Mental Health

This is a common question: What are your thoughts about social media? Parents ask my opinion on social media every so often. Most of them who ask are considering allowing their children to use social media. I have some opinions on this, but it's nice when there's some data to back up my opinions.

Monitor on Psychology (Jan/Feb 2020 issue) had a blurb on a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Findings suggest that tons of kids are on social media, and using more social media puts pre-teens and teens at higher risk for things like anxiety and depression. The article had the magical cut-off number of 3 hours per day, but this is all correlational data so the number of hours is not the main point.

There are at least two take-aways here. 1. Only 17% of kids 12-15 years-old reported not being on social media at all. This supports my advice to parents: if you want to help your children have friends, a good way to do it is teach them how to use social media. This is a low-hanging fruit issue. It is possible to make friends without being on social media, but it's hard. Add to this the fact that your child has a communication or social skills deficit, and for many kids the task is insurmountable.

2. This is yet another case were moderation and oversight is in order. More is not better. In fact, more seems to be worse. Humans do things to themselves all the time, make choices based on impulse and immediate gratification, that are predictably harmful. It's in our DNA to do this, so deluding yourself that your child can manage social media by themselves, for their own good, is foolishness. The study suggests that 3 hours per day leads to an increase in the child's SELF-REPORTED feelings of anxiety, depression, aggression and defiance. The kids themselves are reporting this. You no longer have to invoke the name of a professional to apply reasonable standards on your child's behavior, you can point to the peers as evidence why unlimited and excessive access to social media is a bad idea.

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